There is a very fine line between attitudes and platitudes. That may well be the most clever thing I have ever written in my life. With the exception of that other super clever thing I wrote one time. Which I can’t find at the moment. I’m sure it’ll turn up.

But listen. There are a lot of folks out there who are trying to sell you their magic potion or charms or trinkets to make you happy. Or they’re trying to sell you, and this one is the real kick in the pants, their *secret* to being happy. Or successful. Or both, because we all know the only way to *truly* be happy is to be successful.

And most of this garbage is all about how if you have the proper attitude, Good Things Will Happen.

Well that’s bullshit.

Successful people are successful because they work their arses off. Now here’s something interesting: many successful people don’t consider the work they do drudgery. Most of them actually *like* the stuff they’re doing, and so because they *enjoy* it, it doesn’t seem so much like work. And so when you ask them what the key is to their success, they say things like “keep a positive attitude” and “believe and you will achieve”. And that, my friend, sets up what cenobyte likes to call a false psychological economy.

Of *course* there is such thing as a psychological economy. What is an economy but a system of give and take, of trade, of ups and downs? It is the use of resources, and we have at our disposal rather a large amount of resources when it comes to the stuff that goes on between our ears.

There is a reason, after all, that “depression” means two very simliar things in two very different arenas.

Now. It really grinds my gears when I hear people talk about their secret to success, or the secret path or way to happiness, because THERE IS NO SECRET. Or if there is, it’s the worst kept secret ever invented.

I’m not saying there’s no such thing as a positive attitude or a negative attitude. I’m not saying there’s no such thing as Poopypantses (I am married to a Professional Poopypants). What I’m saying is that rubbish self-help books and five-step programmes that profess to put you on the road to success are probably just setting you up for failure. You don’t need platitudes and “pithy” “inspirational” sayings glued to your refrigerator.

I remember one time there was this big push on to make a…crud, I’ve forgotten what it’s called. Like a trophy wall or and inspirational wall or something…where you were to paste photos of your DREAMS. And you were supposed to put this collage of all of the things you WANT in a place where you will see it every day, and the running theory on that was that if you wish hard enough, your dreams will come true. Because you will be sending out your wishes into the universe and the universe’s sole purpose is to make your life better.

If you wish hard enough, your dreams will come true.

Let’s parse this a moment.
1) If you wish hard enough – so this means that if you don’t get the dream job you’ve always wanted of being Warren Buffett, you just really suck at wishing.
2) Your dreams will come true – what about the one where you’re at school naked and everyone is laughing at you? That would be *awesome*.

Look, it’s setting you up for failure. This is telling you that if you are not wealthy and skinny and popular and funny, there is something wrong with the way that you wish for things. Think about that. Just…just think about it for a moment. You’re six years old. Six of your best friends (and one douche you didn’t want but Mum said you had to invite him because his parents teach at the same school) are sitting around the table and you have an enormous cake with “Hoppy Birtday cneebyote” written on it in red icing. You’re leaning forward to blow out the candles, and the only wish in your head is : “I wish for a new bicycle!” (because you’d left yours in the approach to the alley and the neighbours hadn’t seen it when they were pulling out and they’d driven over it). If you don’t get a new bicycle, it’s because you SUCK AT WISHING. Not because your parents are trying to teach you a lesson by not replacing the bicycle they told you a thousand times not to leave all over the goddamned neighbourhood. Not because your family can’t afford a new bicycle. Not because Cambodian Tyre is sold out of bicycles because your birthday is at the beginning of the summer when EVERYONE is getting new bicycles. Not because China exploded and they can’t find anyone else willing to put bicycles together for such low wages. No, it’s because YOU SUCK AT WISHING.

When you were a kid and prayed for a pair of skates, your parents probably told you “it doesn’t work like that”. And then they’d stumble around with some explanation about how asking God for material things doesn’t work because God isn’t in the business of manufacturing goods and clearly you’re thinking of Santa.

Wishing and praying and hoping are all very important things. Dreaming more than all of them combined. But you have to understand that unless you’re willing to put in some effort, none of it will come true. None of it. We get out of life what we put in to it. Happiness doesn’t just happen (which is kind of ironic, because “happy” and “happen” come from the same root word, which is “hap”, which meant, many years ago, ‘chance’ or ‘fortune’. In fact, “happy” used to mean “fortunate” rather than “glad” or “joyous”) continuously because we think good thoughts. If that were the case, then the time Viper Pilot went to that wedding and focussed thoughts about Britney Spears at the Mind Control Rock would have probably negated any bad mojo the couple would have had for YEARS.

Sure, part of having a joyful personality is the ability to accept crap for what it is and move on rather than to focus just on crap and convince yourself that there’s only ever going to be more crap. But people who are successful (whether you define ‘success’ as being material, spiritual, emotional, physical, or whatever) are successful because they work at it and because they focus on the outcomes they want, not because they sit around wishing for things and changing the vibrational nature of the universe.

If wishes were horses, in other words, beggars would ride. Or, as Jayne Cobb puts it, “If wishes was horses, we’d all be eating steak”, which is probably the better proverb.






14 responses to “Attitude/Platitude”

  1. Smarty Pants Avatar
    Smarty Pants


  2. melistress Avatar

    “You don’t need platitudes and “pithy” “inspirational” sayings glued to your refrigerator. ”

    What if you use glitter glue?

    1. cenobyte Avatar

      Then it’s okay.

  3. LT Avatar

    slightly cheeky
    money can’t buy happiness…but it can rent it half an hour at a time

    slighty cynical
    money can’t buy happiness…but it will fund the salaries of a research team to look into the concept

    attitude is everything

  4. Ben Avatar

    I’ve seen this saying just a minute ago: “Luck comes to those who work the hardest”.

  5. Wade Avatar

    I find the whole “If you have the right attitude, good things will happen” to be an interesting sort of parallel to Prosperity Gospel. Stripping out the money focus of Prosperity Gospel, the general idea is “God will make good things happen to good people (and bad thing happen to bad people).” The obvious extension of this is that if you have bad things happen to you, then you must *be a bad person*. All those people on welfare and living in poverty? They don’t *deserve* help because God wouldn’t have made them poor if they weren’t *wicked*, and if they reformed their lives and became good people, God would help make them wealthy so we wouldn’t need to lend a hand anyway.

    Granted, the whole “attitude is everything” bit isn’t quite as toxic, but it still easily becomes “those people who aren’t happy? It is just because they don’t have the right attitude”, which is often absolute bullshit, of course.

    1. cenobyte Avatar

      Yeah. See.


      The “Prosperity Gospel” is one of the reasons I really strongly dislike a certain book that I’ve bitched about before. Because the message in that book is basically “Bad shit happens because your faith wasn’t strong enough”, which I find reprehensible.

      And yes, that’s exactly it, Wade. People who seem to think that if you’re upset or in a Bad Place it’s because you’re just a miserable douche, when in fact we all get to be upset or sad sometimes. And some of us actually have clinical depression and other mental health issues that all the gumption and positive thinking in the world isn’t going to address. And saying, “well your problem is just that you need to cheer up! Good things happen to happy people” is just frigging rude.

      Actually, it’s downright cruel.

      1. Wade Avatar

        Prosperity Gospel is high up on the list of “things what piss me off”.

        But I do think a lot of it just comes down to Fundamental Attribution Error – “*I* am poor because my parents were poor, or because I was out of work due to no fault of my own, or because I’ve had a string of bad luck. *You* are poor because you are lazy.” Substitute depressed/unhealthy/single/hunted by lizard people/in jail/fat/unemployed/whatever as you wish. It is easy to look at ourselves and see our misfortunes as results of circumstance and our triumphs as a result of our personal merits, and look at the triumphs of others and see luck while knowing they could overcome their misfortunes if only they tried harder. It is how our brains work, but it certainly doesn’t pre-dispose people towards compassion.

        1. cenobyte Avatar

          I am totally fat because I’ve been hunted by lizard people.

          I HATE those fuckers.

        2. the_iron_troll Avatar

          The thing about how our brains work, is it’s often a cultural construction as much as (or more than) a biological one. Some day, maybe we can teach a generation some greater collective empathy skills.

  6. dippid Avatar

    “…if you don’t get the dream job you’ve always wanted of being Warren Buffett, you just really suck at wishing”. – Truly excellent!

    And glad to see Wade also took Psych 100 :P

  7. the_iron_troll Avatar

    Yes. Absolutely. In every way. I <3 this post so much.

    Some day, hopefully, I will write something that clever.

    And some day, hopefully, I will find that thing that I love to do that makes the world a better place, and I will keep doing that 50h a week for the rest of my life.

  8. cenobyte Avatar

    I don’t agree that the way our brains work is cultural.

    But I do hope you find those things that you’re passionate about.

    1. the_iron_troll Avatar


      Perhaps I phrased poorly. I think that how we THINK is partly cultural, but how our brains work is biological.

i make squee noises when you tell me stuff.

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